Harold Williams: Winger who laid on the chances for John Charles and was the oldest surviving Welsh football international

 

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Harold Williams was the oldest surviving former Wales international footballer and one of the last remaining members of a generation of players – which included his fellow wingers Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney – who served in the Second World War.

The pacey Williams, 5ft 4in and 8st 11lb, operated on either flank and enjoyed his best spell with Leeds United between 1949 and 1957. His crosses helped his dear friend and compatriot John Charles to score so freely that he earned a world-record £65,000 move to Juventus. "I couldn't stop putting the ball on John's head," the provider quipped this year.

Born in the shipping port of Briton Ferry on Swansea Bay, Williams was rejected by Swansea Town after a trial, gaining experience as a teenaged guest for Belfast Celtic and Cliftonville in wartime football. In 1942 he joined the Royal Navy and was posted to Newfoundland, from where he served on destroyers and became involved in U-Boat warfare. "It was frightening," he said, "but I survived."

Demobbed in 1946, he was signed by Newport County. Three years later, the Third Division South club were drawn away to Leeds in the FA Cup, and Williams' performance in a 3-1 victory prompted the Second Division side's manager, Major Frank Buckley, to sign him for the then substantial fee of £8,000 plus £4,000-rated Roly Depear. On the morning of the tie he had risen early to do his milk round.

Williams won two of his four Welsh caps, against Northern Ireland and Switzerland in 1949, while turning out for Newport. He doubled his total as a Leeds player, but it was anything but a glamorous career; the highest wage he earned was £15 per week and he lived on a housing estate near Elland Road, walking to and from matches with neighbours who were also supporters.

In 1950, Leeds, with Williams flying down the left and Charles at centre-half, reached the sixth round of the FA Cup before losing at Arsenal. In the league, they continually came up short in the promotion race, and in 1952 Williams suffered a broken leg against Everton. He marked his comeback with a goal in a 6-0 rout of Notts County, Charles scoring four.

In 1955-56, the emergence of Jack Overfield and George Meek, wingers whose trickery contrasted with Williams' direct style, limited his appearances to 19 as Charles' 29 goals propelled Leeds back to the top flight. In 1957, after 228 games and 35 goals, he rejoined Newport, staying briefly before returning to the West Riding to finish his League career with Bradford Park Avenue in the Third Division North.

After retiring, Williams ran pubs in Leeds with his wife. Following her death, and the 2004 passing of Charles, whom he rated as the finest player he ever saw, he remained a genial, dapper figure, spending his final days in a care home in the city.

Harold T Williams, footballer: born Briton Ferry, Glamorgan 17 June 1924; married Ada (deceased); died Leeds 12 September 2014.

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